Day 1– Hitch 1 began with both the Jawbone and Rands crews preparing meals and gear for the 8 days in the field. Many of us had never prepared meals for 12 people before and we quickly realized that it was a lot more work than it initially seemed. We also ran into difficulties with money allocation and multiple grocery visits were a consequence. Cutting out extravagant menu items, such as kalamata olives and feta cheese, humbled and prepared us for field life as well as saving us a few bucks. During prep, a botched recipe resulted in Riley’s Texas Cheez-Its (extremely over salted biscuits), but once out in the field they became meal must-haves. While others were slaving away in the kitchen, a few crew members were able to sneak away and get caught up on truck and trailer training.
Day 2– On our BLM orientation day, we were informed of what some of our side duties will be while in the field, including public outreach, sensitive/endangered species protocol, and some necessary measures to be taken when stumbling upon various artifacts. One thing that made us all feel really good was hearing from our BLM Ranger contact Wayne Dengal just how much our work makes a difference. He told us about the countless times he has been approached out in the field by long time OHVers who were frustrated and perplexed as to where their favorite (illegal) routes had gone. Pretending to be none the wiser, he tells them he has no idea. After listening to Wayne and the other inspiring BLM staff members, it became clear to us that they love what they do! A barbeque followed the presentations, which allowed us to mingle with BLM staff and also reconnect with our long lost Wilderness crew brothers and sisters.
Day 3– Our official Pre-Hitch Day involved more cooking, cleaning, and prepping/packing the trucks and trailer for our official first hitch! We were informed that in order to practice our peer leadership skills, two hitch leaders would be assigned for each day. Although our Project Leaders Stephanie and Tony would be present, they would be taking a step back, biting their tongues, and allowing the hitch leaders to assume full decision-making responsibilities. Our Project Leaders also craftily swayed other crew members to create challenges for the hitch leaders each day (i.e. being lazy, complacent, negative, etc).
Day 4– We began the day by driving to our campsite and setting up. Later on, some of us relaxed a bit and reviewed presentations for the days to come. A few others scouted out incursions to be worked on this hitch. After a seemingly flawless day setting-up and getting acquainted with our campsite, our first night proved all too differently when high winds whipped through our community tent, and rendered some of our crew members tentless throughout the night!
Day 5– Although we awoke sandy-eyed and weary, we came together as a community and made delicious pancakes that lifted our spirits and prepared us for the day ahead. That morning Riley and Dan presented on Tool Safety, which included proper use, maintenance demonstrations, and body mechanics. Our certified 4×4 members, Kyle, Tori, and Rachel, also presented key information from the training they received: wheel cheat, blind spots, recovery techniques, tire pressure, etc. The crew was also directed through a mini 4×4 course which helped everyone feel more comfortable with driving! Since our white wall tent was out of commission, members not assigned to dinner duty that night all volunteered themselves to shield the stove from the wind for the cooks! They also provided much needed song and entertainment for the less than ideal cooking situation.
Day 6– Leah, the WildCorps project leader, was our saving grace, delivering us a borrowed community tent and much needed supplies. The Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) demonstration and a quick GIS introduction were given by our very own Grace! This was followed by a thorough GPS/Trimble unit workshop given by Natalie and Darrin. We practiced with the devices by mapping out our campsite and a nearby road. One of the main takeaways from this lesson was the importance of plotting the location of each incursion we work at, so as to track progress. After mapping, Tyler and Hailee led a Restoration Theory demonstration. This involved the explanation of numerous techniques we will be using throughout the season to artfully disguise illegal OHV routes, so that they disappear into the landscape. The day’s workshops placed us adjacent to an open area (an unregulated OHV use area). The large, trail-heavy, denuded area opened our eyes to the importance of trail regulation and restoration efforts.
Day 7– Our day began with a bang as we put our Pickmatics into the ground and actually began working on an incursion! This involved breaking into two groups, one used various tools to decompact the soil, while the other dispersed about to collect dead and fallen plant matter. This vegetation collection is used to then construct realistic looking plants in order to disguise the illegal trail, and blend it into the surrounding environment. Because we are all new to this, the process was slow going at first. Although it was a long day, and we were reminded of muscles we had long forgotten, everyone was satisfied at finally having broken ground.
Day 8– We began the day with high expectations of finishing our incursion early on and starting work on another. We quickly realized that this kind of restoration would take a hefty amount of precision and tact, as well as require ample amounts of time. We decided our efforts were best placed putting final touches on the first incursion, rather than rushing the job and beginning work at a new site. With that being said, we all became much craftier in our creation of “Restorasotes”, which act as incognito creosote plants, and are some of the main components for our masterpiece. As we took our final GPS points and swept away our footprints (yes, we literally used brooms to sweep the sand), we walked away and marveled at what we had accomplished together!
Day 9– To hone our plant identification skills, we spent the first part of our day with our BLM contacts Carrie, Dana, Kat, and Jeff. The morning proved to be very educational, as we learned how to identify many of the species that are prevalent in the areas where we will be working. A majority of our work will take place when most Mojave Desert plants are dormant, so we were taught to use all of our senses (specifically smell) to distinguish between the various flora. The second half of the day consisted of a GPS review in the form of a game, where teams competed neck-and-neck to be the fastest and most accurate point plotters!
Day 10– After a morning filled with tool maintenance, the group made a collective decision to pack up camp early, due to the fact that we did not have adequate time to start and finish another incursion. Our time would be better spent inventorying our camp supplies and preparing for Hitch II, so that we could maximize time spent working on incursions in the future.
Day 11– Post-hitch day was spent planning and cleaning, to ensure smooth sailing for the beginning of Hitch II. The grueling process of washing the trucks, inventorying everything from forks to lost tent snaps, planning meals, and processing the data collected had us tired, yet very much happy for our next five days off!
In retrospect of our first hitch, this is what each crew member took away:
Dan: Dead plants look like live plants, live plants look like dead plants, and they’re all different species.
Hailee: Much like burnt-face is the new tan, so 8 P.M. is the new 12 A.M.
Tori: Having people sing you Christmas carols while cooking makes even the worst situation a little brighter.
Rachel: Respect your digestive system.
Natalie: It is good to wash your Tupperware.
Tyler: Burrowing owls are very elusive.
Grace: Cheesebush actually smells like cheese!
Darrin: Our top conversation topics are about food and the word stale.
Kyle: Snacks are essential.
Riley: Assuming teaspoons are tablespoons is not the right thing to do.
Written by Tori and Hailee